Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) denied individual defendants' renewed motion to dismiss a plaintiff's Bivens claim for retaliatory prosecution in violation of the First Amendment. The ruling, which applies the Supreme Court's ruling from this summer in Ziglar v. Abbasi, means that the plaintiff's First Amendment Bivens action can move forward. (This isn't a ruling on the merits; it only says that the plaintiff's claim survives a motion to dismiss in light of Abbasi.)
The ruling is notable, because the Court appeared to substantially restrict Bivens actions in Abbasi essentially to those very few situations where the Court has allowed a Bivens action. (We posted on this here.) But this ruling reads Abbasi differently--not to prohibit a Bivens action under the First Amendment.
The case, Loumiet v. United States, arose when an attorney for a target of an investigation by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency complained to the OCC Inspector General that OCC investigators engaged in "highly unusual and disturbing" behavior during their investigation, including making racist comments to the target's staff. The OCC then initiated an enforcement proceeding against the plaintiff pursuant to the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act, claiming that the plaintiff had "knowingly or recklessly . . . breach[ed his] fiduciary duty," and as a result "caused . . . a significant adverse effect" on the target of the investigation. An ALJ recommended dropping the matter, and the OCC agreed. The plaintiff filed for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act and won in the D.C. Circuit. That court ruled that "the Comptroller was not 'substantially justified' in bringing the underlying administrative proceedings against [the plaintiff]."
The plaintiff then brought a Bivens claim for retaliatory prosecution in violation of the First Amendment, among other claims. The court earlier declined to dismiss the case, but the individual defendants asked the court to reconsider after Abbasi came down this summer.
The court in this ruling again declined to dismiss the case.
The court assumed, without deciding, that the case raised a "new context" under Bivens. (The court said that the D.C. Circuit hadn't yet had an opportunity to rule on Abbasi, so it couldn't really say what a "new context" was in the post-Abbasi world of Bivens--in particular, whether Abbasi set a new standard for "new context.") The court went on to say that special factors did not counsel against a Bivens remedy:
Unlike the facts in Abbasi, this is not a case in which "high officers who face personal liability for damages might refrain from taking urgent and lawful action in a time of crisis." Rather, Plaintiff's prosecution was separate from, and subsequent to, the OCC's enforcement action against his bank client; the prosecution against Plaintiff does not seem to have been "urgent," driven by "crisis," or, for that matter, necessary to the underlying enforcement action against Plaintiff's client. Indeed, the Court already made a fact-specific inquiry that a Bivens claim will not deter lawful enforcement activity.
Finally, the court said that the defendants couldn't show that the plaintiff had alternative relief, here under the FIRREA, the Administrative Procedure Act, or the Equal Justice Act.
Thursday, November 9, 2017
A sharply divided Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, sitting en banc for the first time in its history, ruled that the ACLU and Yale Law School's Media Freedom and Information Clinic have standing to seek redacted portions of FISC rulings that set out the legal basis for a government bulk-data-collection program. The ruling means that the movants' efforts to obtain the rulings can move forward, although it does not say anything about the merits.
The case arose after two newspapers in June 2013 released classified information about a surveillance program run by the government since 2006. The DNI then declassified further details about the bulk-data-collection program and acknowledge that the FISC approved much of it under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the "business records" provision.
The movants filed a motion with the FISC, asking the FISC to unseal its opinions on Section 215. They argued that because officials had revealed key details of the program, there was no need to keep the legal justification for it secret, and moreover that they had a First Amendment right of access under Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia.
The government released more information about the program, including a white paper that explained how FISC judges periodically approved the directives to telecommunications providers to produce bulk telephonic metadata. At the same time, the FISC asked the government to review several of its opinions and then released redacted versions of those opinions relating to Section 215.
The movants then filed another motion to unseal classified sections of the FISC rulings. The government provided yet more redacted FISC opinions and moved to dismiss the second motion. The government argued that it would merely duplicate already-released opinions, and that the movants lacked standing.
As to standing, the FISC disagreed. In particular, the court said that the movants had a concrete and actual harm, "because the opinions are currently not available to them. . . . [M]oreover, it is sufficiently 'particularized' from that of the public because of Movants' active participation in ongoing debates about the legal validity of the bulk-data-collection program." The court emphasized that for the purpose of determining standing, it "must . . . assume that Movants are correct that they have a constitutional right of access--so long as that right is cognizable." In other words, the court said that the movants' standing couldn't turn on the viability of their substantive claim.
The dissent argued that "[n]o member of the public would have any 'right' under the First Amendment to ask to observe a hearing in a FISC courtroom. Still less should we be inventing such a 'right' in the present circumstances." Moreover, the dissent said that the movants, instead of seeking access to judicial proceedings, really only wanted the FISC "to rule that they have a 'right' of access to the information classified by the Executive Branch and that Executive Branch agencies must defend each redaction in the face of Movants' challenge." The dissent said that the movants therefore had no legally protected interests.
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
The Ninth Circuit ruled yesterday that California's prorator license law likely violates the Dormant Commerce Clause. In the same ruling, the court held that California's mandatory disclosure requirements likely did not violate the First Amendment, and that the case did not warrant Younger abstention. The court sent the case back for further proceedings.
The case, Nationwide Biweekly v. Owen, arose when California prosecutors and regulators targeted Nationwide Biweekly Administration for fraud investigations involving one of its mortgage-payoff products. Here's how it works: a consumer would pay to Nationwide his or her monthly mortgage bill every two weeks, instead of paying to the lender directly every month. Nationwide would then pay the lender every month. This meant that a consumer would pay to his or her lender, through Nationwide, an extra monthly payment each year and thus pay off the loan sooner. Nationwide advertised the product as a "100% savings," but failed adequately to disclose the discount rate (based on the time-value of money) and fees for the product. So what appears to be a cost-free (and thus savings-only) product in fact is not cost-free.
The Monterey County District Attorney's Office sent Nationwide a letter about the practice and alleged that Nationwide was violating several California laws. In particular, the DA's office wrote that Nationwide was violating two provisions that required it to say that it's not affiliated with the lender in any solicitation to consumers for its product. The letter also said that Nationwide was violating California's "prorator" registration law, which required a "prorator" (a "person who, for compensation, engages in whole or in part in the business of receiving money or evidences thereof for the purpose of distributing the money or evidences thereof among creditors in payment or partial payment of the obligations of the debtor") to obtain a license. But under California law, such a license is only available to a corporation if the corporation is "organized under the laws of this State for that purpose." The Commissioner later sent Nationwide a letter notifying the corporation that it was investigating Nationwide's unlicensed business activity.
Nationwide filed suit in the Northern District, seeking to enjoin enforcement of the disclosure requirements by the DA. A Nationwide subsidiary later filed suit in the Northern District seeking to enjoin enforcement of the registration requirement against the Commissioner. The court rejected Nationwide's motion for a preliminary injunction in both cases, and Nationwide filed notices of appeal.
About a month after the opening appellate briefs were filed, the DA and the Commission filed a joint enforcement suit in California Superior Court. The district court dismissed both federal cases under Younger, and Nationwide appealed.
The Ninth Circuit ruled first that Younger abstention was not appropriate, because "before the date that the state case was filed, the district court had already conducted proceedings of substance on the merits." In particular, the court "spend a substantial amount of time evaluating the merits of the cases in considering and denying (in a detailed and reasoned order) Nationwide's motions for preliminary injunctions."
The court went on to hold that Nationwide was unlikely to succeed on its First Amendment claim. It ruled that under Zauderer, the "required disclaimers--short, accurate, and to the point--are reasonably related to California's interest in preventing . . . deception."
Finally, the court said that California's licensing requirement likely violated the Dormant Commerce Clause, because California's requirement makes in-state incorporation a prerequisite to getting a license to engage in interstate commerce.
Judge Montgomery argued in dissent that the federal proceedings were still at an embryonic stage and the court should have abstained under Younger.
Monday, September 25, 2017
The Supreme Court today took the travel ban arguments off its oral argument calendar. The Court also ordered the parties to submit short briefs on whether the case is moot in light of President Trump's new proclamation on travel restrictions.
Friday, September 22, 2017
Judge Jerome B. Simandle (D.N.J.) today declined to halt New Jersey's bail-reform law. The law provides for alternative, non-monetary pretrial release options in order to give poor defendants (who often can't afford bail) a shot at pretrial release while still serving other criminal justice interests. The plaintiffs in the case argued that the law violated the Eighth Amendment, due process, and the Fourth Amendment.
The preliminary ruling, denying the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, leaves the law in place, for now. But today's order isn't a final ruling on the merits.
The plaintiffs lawyered-up big time (Paul Clement appeared pro hac), suggesting that this is just the first step in their aggressive challenge to New Jersey's law. One reason for the attention to the case: Taking money out of the bail system also takes away a stream of revenue from corporations like plaintiff Lexington National Insurance Corporation. As more jurisdictions look to non-monetary bail options to avoid keeping poor, nonviolent defendants behind bars pending trial, bail providers stand to lose even more.
The New Jersey bail-reform law sets up a five-stage, hierarchical process for courts to follow in setting bail. It allows for pretrial release of certain defendants with non-monetary conditions, like remaining in the custody of a particular person, reporting to a designated law enforcement agency, home supervision with a monitoring device, and the like. In order to help navigate the process for any particular defendant, the court gets risk-assessment recommendations from a Pretrial Services Program. According to the court, in less than a year under this system, "[t]his reform has shown great success in placing persons into pretrial release who would previously have been held in jail for failure to meet monetary bail and because pretrial monitoring options were largely unavailable. As a result, many fewer defendants are being detained in jail as they await trial."
Using this system, a New Jersey court ordered plaintiff Brittan Holland released, but subject to home confinement (except for work), with an ankle bracelet for monitoring, weekly reporting, and no contact with the victim. (Holland was charged with second-degree aggravated assault and agreed to these conditions on his release in exchange for the state withdrawing its application for detention.)
Holland argued that the system deprived him of a right to have monetary bail considered as a primary condition of release, and that as a result his conditions amount to an undue restraint on his liberty. (He said that the conditions "severely restricted [his] liberty, disrupted [his] family life, made [him] concerned about [his] job security, and made [him] feel that [his] life is up in the air.") Plaintiff Lexington, a national underwriter of bail bonds, joined, arguing that the system would cause it to lose money.
The court ruled first that Holland had standing, but that Lexington probably did not. Here's how the court explained Holland's standing:
Holland claims that his injury is not simply the restriction on his liberty, but rather the imposition of that restriction after a hearing that violated his rights under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. He claims that such injury will be sufficiently redressed should the Court order that a hearing respecting those constitutional rights (as he understands them) be held, regardless of the ultimate outcome of such a hearing. Should the Court order such a hearing to be held, the relief then would not be speculative. He claims that he was injured by the holding of a hearing that did not afford him his constitutional rights, including the alleged right to have monetary bail considered as a primary condition of release pending trial, and that ordering a new hearing that does afford him those rights will redress that injury.
As to Lexington, the court said that it failed to establish standing for itself (because it could only assert harms of a third party, someone like Holland), and that it likely failed to establish third-party standing (because criminal defendants don't face any obstacles in bringing their own claims--obviously, in light of Holland's participation in the suit). (The state also argued that Lexington lacked prudential standing, because its injury doesn't fall within the zone of interests of the statute. The court said that the state could raise that argument later, as part of a failure-to-state-a-claim argument.)
Next, the court said that Younger abstention was inappropriate, because "[p]laintiffs, here, do not seek to enjoin the state prosecution against Holland; instead, they challenge the procedure by which the conditions of pre-trial release during that prosecution was decided and seek an injunction ordering a different procedure."
As to the merits, the court held that the plaintiffs were unlikely to success on all claims. The court said that the Eighth Amendment doesn't guarantee monetary bail, and that Holland waived his right to it, anyway. It said that Holland received procedural due process, and that he had no right to monetary bail under substantive due process. And it said that conditions were reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, and, again, that Holland agreed to them, anyway.
September 22, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Standing | Permalink | Comments (1)
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
The D.C. Circuit ruled yesterday that Libertarian and Green Party candidates in the 2012 presidential election lacked standing to challenge their exclusion from presidential debates under antitrust laws and the First Amendment. The ruling denies the candidates monetary damages and declaratory relief and ends their case.
The case arose when Libertarian Party candidates Gary Johnson and James Gray and Green Party Candidates Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala failed to meet the threshold 15% support to participate in the 2012 national debates. They sued the Commission on Presidential Debates and the Obama and Romney campaigns, which set the 15% threshold, for violations of antitrust laws and the First Amendment.
The court ruled that the plaintiffs lacked statutory standing to bring their antitrust claim. It wrote that "antitrust standing requires a plaintiff to show an actual or threatened injury 'of the type the antitrust laws were intended to prevent,'" but that the plaintiffs "define[d] their injuries as millions of dollars in free media, campaign donations, and federal matching funds--injuries to them as individual candidates in a political contest for votes." This wasn't the kind of injury to "commercial competition" contemplated by the Sherman Antitrust Act, so the plaintiffs lacked antitrust standing.
Having ruled that the plaintiffs lacked antitrust standing, the court declined to say whether they also lacked Article III standing. This was partly in order to avoid a constitutional question--whether a court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would infringe the Commission's First Amendment rights. As the court explained, quoting Perot v. Federal Election Commission (D.C. Circuit): "[I]f this [C]ourt were to enjoin the [Commission] from staging the debates or from choosing debate participants, there would be a substantial argument that the [C]ourt would itself violate the [Commission's] First Amendment rights."
As to the First Amendment claim, the court merely said that "[n]one of [the plaintiffs'] allegations articulate a clear legal claim, let alone identify a cognizable injury. To make matters worse, the Complaint omits entirely any allegation of government action, focusing entirely on the actions of the nonprofit Defendants."
Judge Pillard concurred in the judgment but wrote separately to argue that the court should have considered Article III standing, should have ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on that point, and should have dismissed the complaint on the merits.
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
The Third Circuit ruled yesterday that a plaintiff couldn't bring a First Amendment claim against a TSA officer after the officer caused the plaintiff to be detained and charged with making a bomb threat at airport security. The case, which applied the Supreme Court's recent Bivens ruling, Ziglar v. Abassi, walks back circuit law authorizing a Bivens claim for First Amendment violations, and leaves plaintiffs with no federal judicial remedy for a TSA officer's violation of First Amendment rights.
The ruling is a faithful application of Ziglar, but also illustrates the sweep and significance of that decision in restricting constitutional tort claims, especially in areas in any way touching on national security.
The case arose when Roger Vanderklok attempted to pass through Philadelphia airport security with a length of PVC pipe, capped at both ends and containing a watch and heart-monitor for a half-marathon that he intended to run in Miami. TSA employee Charles Kieser performed a secondary screening, which Vanderklok alleged was unduly aggressive. Vanderklok said that he intended to file a complaint; Kieser then called the Philadelphia police and falsely reported that Vanderklok threatened to bring a bomb to the airport. Vanderklook was arrested and charged, but later acquitted, after airport surveillance footage undermined Kieser's story.
Vanderklok sued Kieser for a variety of violations, including a First Amendment violation, pursuant to Bivens. (The Third Circuit only addressed the First Amendment claim.) The court walked back its own circuit law, which applied Bivens to First Amendment claims, and ruled that Bivens didn't "extend" to Vanderklok's First Amendment claim.
The court noted that airport security created a new Bivens context, and that Bivens law had changed:
Our past pronouncements are thus not controlling in the specific circumstances now at issue. It is not enough to argue, as Vanderklok does, that First Amendment retaliation claims have been permitted under Bivens before. We must look at the issue anew in this particular context, airport security, and as it pertains to this particular category of defendants, TSA screeners.
Since Bivens was decided, judicial attitudes about the creation of new causes of action have changed considerably. Courts will no longer imply rights and remedies as a matter of course, "no matter how desirable that might be as a policy matter, or how compatible with the statute [or constitutional provision]." "Given the notable change in the [Supreme] Court's approach to recognizing implied causes of action . . . the Court has made clear that expanding the Bivens remedy is now a 'disfavored' judicial activity."
(Cites to Ziglar omitted.)
As to the Bivens analysis, the court said first that Vanderklok didn't have a remedy under the Federal Tort Claims Act, but may have had a remedy under the DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program.
Ultimately, it didn't matter, though, because Vanderklok's claim failed on the second Bivens inquiry. In particular, the court said second that the special factor of national security counseled against a Bivens remedy here:
A special factor counseling hesitation in implying a Bivens action here is that Vanderklok's claims can be seen as implicating "the Government's whole response to the September 11 attacks, thus of necessity requiring an inquiry into sensitive issues of national security." In language laden with separation-of-powers concerns in the context of foreign affairs, national security, and defense, the court wrote that it's up to Congress, not the courts, to create a remedy for constitutional violations in this kind of situation.
The court added a final "practical concern" to authorizing a Bivens remedy. It wrote that because TSA employees aren't typically law enforcement officers, they aren't trained in probable cause determinations of the type that would've been necessary here. Therefore, the court said, "a Bivens claim is poorly suited to address wrongs by line TSA employees. Indeed, the inherent uncertainty surrounding the probable cause standard is itself a factor counseling hesitation."
The ruling ends Vanderklok's First-Amendment portion of his lawsuit.
Saturday, August 19, 2017
The Fifth Circuit ruled this week that an organization had standing to challenge Texas's restriction on a voter's use of an interpreter under the Voting Rights Act. But at the same time, the court said that the district court's injunction was too broad. The ruling, a victory for the plaintiffs, nevertheless sends the case back to the district court for a more narrowly tailored injunction.
The case arose when the Organization for Chinese Americans stepped-in to a lawsuit challenging Texas's law that limits a non-English-speaking voter's use of an interpreter at the polls. Texas law says that such a voter can use an interpreter "outside the ballot box," but that the interpreter must "be a registered voter of the county in which the voter needing the interpreter resides." OCA argued that the provision violated Section 208 of the VRA, which says that "[a]ny voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write may be given assistance by a person of the voter's choice, other than the voter's employer or agent of that employer or officer or agent of the voter's union."
The court ruled that OCA had organizational standing, because, as an educational organization, it had to ramp up its educational efforts in response to Texas's law. In particular,
OCA calibrated its outreach efforts to spend extra time and money educating its members about these Texas provisions and how to avoid their negative effects. Specifically, OCA employees and volunteers must carefully explain to those it contacts, in the language they understand, that when they bring an interpreter to a Texas polling location, the interpreter must identify his or herself as an "assistor" rather than as an "interpreter" to avoid being turned away under Texas law . . . .
The court went on to reject Texas's claim of sovereign immunity, because OCA sought only declaratory and injunctive relief (and not monetary damages).
On the merits, the court concluded that the Texas provision violated Section 208 of the VRA, but that the district court went too far in enjoining "any provision of its Election Code to the extent it is inconsistent with the VRA." The court remanded the case for a more narrowly tailored injunction.
The Sixth Circuit ruled yesterday that a group of plaintiffs, including taxpayers with overseas accounts and Senator Rand Paul, lacked standing to challenge the reporting and penalty provisions under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. The ruling ends this challenge.
The FATCA imposes certain reporting requirements, and provides for penalties for noncompliance, on individual taxpayers and foreign financial institutions ("FFIs") with overseas accounts. It also requires FFIs to withhold 30% of every payment made by the FFI to a noncompliant account holder.
In order to implement the FATCA and facilitate the FFIs' disclosure of financial-account information to the IRS, the IRS has entered into a number of intergovernmental agreements ("IGAs").
Separately, the Bank Secrecy Act imposes a foreign account reporting requirement on U.S. citizens living abroad who have aggregate foreign-account balances over $10,000. The Act also imposes a penalty of 50% of the value of the reportable accounts, or $100,000, whichever is greater.
Several individuals with foreign accounts and U.S. Senator Rand Paul sued, arguing that the provisions violate equal protection (by treating citizens living overseas differently than citizens living in the U.S.); that the penalties constitute excessive fines; that the reporting requirements violate the plaintiffs' right to privacy; and that the IRS lacked authority to enter into the IGAs without Senate advice and consent.
The Sixth Circuit didn't touch the merits, however, and instead ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing. As to most of the plaintiffs, the court said that they weren't actually harmed, because "no Plaintiff has alleged any actual enforcement of FATCA such as a demand for compliance with the individual-reporting requirement, the imposition of a penalty for noncompliance, or an FFI's deduction of the Passthru Penalty from a payment to or from a foreign account."
Moreover, the court said that no plaintiff could satisfy the standard for a preenforcement challenge, because "no Plaintiff claims to hold enough foreign assets to be subject to the individual-reporting, and, as a result, no Plaintiff can claim that there is a 'credible threat' of" enforcement against them.
The court rejected some plaintiffs' claims of harms that arose apart from FATCA's reporting requirements and penalties, because those harms weren't fairly traceable to the FATCA. Finally, the court said that Senator Paul lacked standing under the no-legislator-standing rule. "Rather, Senator Paul has a remedy in the legislature, which is to seek repeal or amendment of FATCA itself, under the aegis of which Treasury is executing the IGAs.
Friday, August 18, 2017
The Eighth Circuit ruled this week that Planned Parenthood patients didn't have an individual right to sue Arkansas when the state terminated its Medicaid provider agreement with the organization. But the two judges in the majority differed as to their reasoning, and a third judge sharply dissented. The ruling creates a circuit split on the question and sets the case up for possible en banc review or even cert.
The issue in the case was whether Planned Parenthood patients could sue the state under Section 23(A) of the Medicaid Act and Section 1983. Here's how it works: The Medicaid Act requires the Secretary of HHS to "approve any plan which fulfills the conditions specified in subsection (a)." Subsection (a), in turn, says that "[a] State plan for medical assistance must" satisfy certain conditions, including the one at issue here, Section 23(A), that is, that the state plan must "provide that . . . any individual eligible for medical assistance (including drugs) may obtain such assistance from any institution, agency, community pharmacy, or person, qualified to perform the service or services requires . . . who undertakes to provide him such services."
So the issue was whether this last provision created a private right of action for the patients. The court said no.
Judge Colloton wrote that the provision didn't create a private right of action, because recent Supreme Court doctrine set a higher standard for determining whether a congressional act created an individual cause of action, and that standard wasn't met here. Judge Colloton explained:
There was a time, illustrated by Wilder v. Virginia Hospital Association when the Medicaid Act was deemed to create an enforceable right if the provision in question was "intend[ed] to benefit the putative plaintiff." Starting from that premise, Wilder held that the Boren Amendment to Section 13(A) of the Medicaid Act created a federal right for providers that was enforceable under Section 1938.
Later decisions, however, show that the governing standard for identifying enforceable federal rights in spending statutes is more rigorous. It is not enough, as Wilder and Blessing v. Freestone might have suggested, to show simply that a plaintiff "falls within the general zone of interest that the statute is intended to protect." It is now settled that nothign "short of an unambiguously conferred right" will support a cause of action under Section 1983.
Judge Colloton went on to argue that the Court's recent ruling in Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Ctr. repudiated Wilder and thus supported this conclusion. Judge Colloton went on to argue that this higher standard wasn't met here, because "the focus of the Act [a directive to HHS to approve certain state Medicaid plans] is two steps removed from the interests of the patients"; Congress authorized other ways of enforcing the Act (by withdrawing federal funds); and the Medicaid Act, with its "aggregate focus," "do[es] not give rise to individual rights." Judge Colloton also noted that there's an administrative appeal process for Planned Parenthood (which it did not pursue here).
Judge Shepherd concurred, but for a different reason. Judge Shepherd argued that even if Section 23(A) provided a substantive right to sue under Section 1983, "the right provided is to a range of qualified providers--not the right to a particular provider the State has decertified."
Judge Melloy dissented, siding with the several circuits and district courts that have found an individual right of action under Section 23(A). Judge Melloy wrote that Blessing established a three-part test--(1) whether Congress intended that the provision benefit the plaintiff, (2) whether the right "is not so vague and amorphous that is enforcement would strain judicial competence," and whether the provision "impose[s] a binding obligation of the States"--that Gonzaga simply amended the first part (by heightening the requirement, to an "unambiguously conferred right"), and that the plaintiffs satisfied the test here.
Thursday, August 17, 2017
The New York Times reported today that the torture case against two psychologists who designed the CIA torture program settled. We last posted here, when the district court ruled against the defendants' motion to dismiss and rejected the defendants' motion to exclude the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report on the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program.
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
The Ninth Circuit ruled today that Thomas Robins suffered a sufficiently concrete injury to establish Article III standing in his case against the consumer data website Spokeo, Inc. The case was on remand from the Supreme Court.
The case arose when Robins learned that Spokeo published false information about his age, marital status, wealth, educational level, and profession, and published a photo of a different person. Robins claimed that the false report affected his employment prospects. He sued under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which authorizes consumers affected by a violation to sue, even if the consumer cannot show that the violation caused actual damages.
The Ninth Circuit previously ruled that Robins had standing, because he alleged that Spokeo violated his statutory rights under the FCRA. But the Supreme Court vacated that ruling, saying that even if Robins had statutory standing under the FCRA, he still had to show Article III standing--in particular, a concrete harm--and that the Ninth Circuit didn't engage with that question. The Court remanded the case for a determination.
The Ninth Circuit said today that Robins demonstrated a concrete harm and therefore satisfied Article III standing. The court drew on language in Spokeo that said that sometimes Congress enacts procedural rights to guard against a "risk of real harm, the violation of which may be sufficient in some circumstances to constitute injury in fact" under Article III. Congress may do this, the court explained, "[i]n some areas . . . where injuries are difficult to prove or measure." "Accordingly, while Robins may not show an injury-in-fact merely by pointing to a statutory cause of action, the Supreme Court also recognized that some statutory violations, alone, do establish concrete harm." According to the court, the test is when the congressionally conferred procedural right protects a plaintiff's concrete interests and where the procedural violation presents "a risk of real harm" to that concrete interest.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that Robins met that test. The court said that "Congress established the FCRA provisions at issue to protect consumers' concrete interests." Moreover, even though trivial (but technical) violations of the FCRA won't give rise to concrete harm under Article III (and therefore the plaintiff would need to allege more), in this case
it is clear to us that Robins's allegations relate facts that are substantially more likely to harm his concrete interests than the Supreme Court's example of an incorrect zip code. Robins specifically alleged that Spokeo falsely reported that he is married with children, that he is in his 50s, that he is employed in a professional or technical field, that he has a graduate degree, and that his wealth level is higher than it is. It does not take much imagination to understand how inaccurate reports on such a broad range of material facts about Robins's life could be deemed a real harm.
The court rejected Spokeo's argument that Robins's harm was too speculative, because Robins met the court's risk-of-real-harm standard.
The ruling means that Robins's case against Spokeo can proceed to the merits.
Friday, August 11, 2017
The Eighth Circuit ruled this week that a dump truck driver lacked standing to bring a facial challenge to a state's roving-stop statute against the governor and state attorney general. But at the same time the court said that the plaintiff could move forward on his as-applied claim against the superintendent of the state highway patrol for declaratory and injunctive relief.
The case challenges Missouri's law that authorizes the highway patrol to stop commercial vehicles and inspect them for compliance with size- and weight-requirements, even without probable cause. Calzone, a dump-truck driver who was stopped under the act, sued the governor, state AG, and superintendent of the highway patrol in their official capacities for nominal monetary damages and injunctive and declaratory relief, arguing that the law was unconstitutional on its face and as applied.
The court ruled that Calzone didn't have standing to sue the governor or AG, because they weren't directly responsible and authorized to enforce the statute. The court said that he did have standing to sue the superintendent for declaratory and injunctive, however, because she was directly responsible for enforcement.
The court went on to rule that the statute wasn't facially unconstitutional, because it satisfied the three-part test for searches in "closely regulated industries" under New York v. Burger.
That leaves only Calzone's as-applied claim for declaratory and injunctive relief against the superintendent. (Calzone sued the superintendent in her official capacity, so couldn't recover damages under Section 1983.) The court remanded this claim to the district court for further proceedings.
The Third Circuit ruled this week that a case challenging Delaware's escheat law, prior to an investigation under the law, was ripe in one respect, even though it mostly was unripe. The ruling allows just one piece of the case to move forward--an as-applied procedural due process challenge.
The case arose when Delaware appointed a private auditing firm, Kelmar Associates, to investigate Plains All American Pipeline under the state's escheat law. Kelmar sent Plains a document request to initiate the investigation; Plains complained to the state; the state backed Kelmar; and Plains sued. Plains argued that the escheat law violated the Fourth Amendment, and the Ex Post Facto, Equal Protection, and Takings Clauses on their face, and the Due Process Clause as applied; it also argued that the law was void for vagueness and was preempted by federal law. It sought declaratory and injunctive relief.
The court applied its own "refined" test for ripeness, which looks to (1) the adversity of the parties' interests, (2) the conclusiveness of the judgment, and (3) the utility of the judgment. As to adversity, the court said that Plains couldn't demonstrate a sufficient harm, and that Plains didn't face an Abbott Labs Hobson's choice, to establish adversity. As to conclusiveness, the court said that Plains's challenges required further factual development for a ruling. And as to utility, the court said that the investigation currently requires Plains to do nothing: "Plains 'would take the same steps whether or not it was granted a declaratory judgment.'"
But, in contrast, the court ruled that Plains's as-applied procedural due process claim was ripe for review. The difference: Plains challenged the appointment of Kelmar as a violation of procedural due process. And because that harm already occurred, Plains could move forward to the merits. (Success on the merits, of course, is a different question.)
Thursday, August 10, 2017
Judge Quackenbush (E.D. Wash.) ruled earlier this week that the torture case against psychologists who helped design and implement the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" can move forward. The jury trial is set to commence on September 5.
Judge Quckenbush rejected the defendant's argument that the case raises a political question; that the defendants enjoy absolute derivative sovereign immunity; that the Alien Tort Statute doesn't confer jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' claims; and that the defendants are not liable for violating international law. The court also rejected the defendants' motion to exclude the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report on the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program.
At the same time, the court rejected the plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment on the ATS claim. The court said that "the issue of aiding and abetting liability under the ATS present complicated issues of both fact and law. Neither side has demonstrated judgment as a matter of law is appropriate."
The ruling keeps the case on track for trial on the merits.
Sunday, August 6, 2017
The Ninth Circuit ruled last week that Maricopa County officials violated federal law when they sought and obtained a wiretap, but that that the subject couldn't recover damages, because the officials acted in good faith and consistent with Arizona law and long-standing practices.
The ruling adds to a complicated body of law on federal preemption under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 of state law authorizing wiretaps. The Ninth Circuit aligned with the approach of the First Circuit, and asked whether state procedural protections were "in substantial compliance with the federal law."
The case arose when County Attorney Montgomery, pursuant to state law, authorized a deputy to apply for a wiretap. The deputy obtained an order, and officials intercepted eight conversations between Manuela Villa and her daughter in 2011 and 2012. Officials, pursuant to long-standing state practice, then did not immediately deliver the recordings to the state court that authorized the wiretap.
Villa sued under Title III, arguing that officials violated Title III of the federal Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, and that Title III preempted Arizona law that authorized the wiretap. In particular, Villa argued that County Attorney Montgomery, acting pursuant to state law, improperly delegated the authority to apply for a wiretap order to his deputy, in violation of Title III, which requires the "principal prosecuting attorney" to apply for a wiretap. Villa also argued that Deputy Brockel, acting pursuant to long-standing practice, failed to timely submit the recordings to the state court that authorized the wiretap, in violation of a Title III requirement that officials submit intercepted conversations to the authorizing court "[i]mmediately upon the expiration of the period of the order, or extensions thereof."
The Ninth Circuit first ruled that Villa lacked Article III standing to seek declaratory and injunctive relief. The court said that she could demonstrate no individualized future harm that would justify prospective relief. The court rejected Villa's taxpayer-standing claim out of hand, and held that she "does not allege that she is more likely than any other member of the public to have her future conversations illegally intercepted." Because Villa lacked standing for prospective relief, the court said that she also lacks standing to pursue prospective relief on behalf of a putative class.
In contrast, the court held that Villa did have standing to pursue individual damages for past interceptions, but, as below, couldn't actually recover.
The court held next that Title III preempted Arizona law, and that Arizona officials violated Article III. As to authorizing wiretaps, the court adopted the standard set by the First Circuit: "so long as the state wiretapping statute, considered as a whole and as interpreted by state courts, is in substantial compliance with, and is therefore equal to, Title III, state wiretaps are permissible." The court said that Arizona's statute, which authorizes a principal prosecuting attorney to delegate authority to apply for a wiretap to a deputy, didn't meet the standard: "substantial compliance with Title III requires that the principal prosecuting attorney indicate, as part of the application process, that he or she is personally familiar with all of the 'facts and circumstances' justifying his or her 'belief that an order should be issued,'" but that the Arizona statute permitted the "principal prosecuting attorney to state that he or she is [only] generally aware of the criminal investigation . . . ."
As to making the recordings available to the court that approved the wiretap, the court said that "long-standing practice" at the time of Villa's wiretap, in which "county officials submitted recordings of intercepted conversations for sealing only at the conclusion of an entire criminal investigation," was "not in substantial compliance" with federal law. But the court went on to say that a practice of submitting recordings within 10 days would be in compliance with the Act.
But even though the court concluded that officials violated the Act, it also ruled that Villa couldn't recover damages, because the officials acted in good faith, consistent with Arizona law or long-standing practices. (Good faith is a defense under a Title III cause of action.)
Friday, August 4, 2017
The D.C. Circuit earlier this week allowed 17 states and the District of Columbia to intervene in the suit challenging federal subsidies to insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act.
The development keeps the appeal alive, even as President Trump considers halting the payments. Such a move before this week's ruling would have mooted the appeal. But now that the states can defend the payments, and oppose Judge Collyer's ruling, it's not entirely clear whether President Trump can stop the payments, or whether the D.C. Circuit might stop him if he tried.
Recall that House Republicans sued the Obama Administration for making payments to insurance companies under the ACA, even though the line-item for those payments was zero funded. The payments were designed under the ACA to subsidize insurance companies for providing affordable plans on the exchanges. But Congress allocated no money to the line-item designated for the subsidies. The Obama Administration nevertheless made payments, drawing money from another, related account. (Without the payments, insurance rates would skyrocket on the exchanges, or insurers would have pulled out, or both.)
House Republicans sued, and Judge Rosemary Collyer (D.D.C.) ruled in their favor. But she stayed her injunction pending appeal. President Trump then inherited the appeal from the Obama Administration, allowing him to drop the appeal, leave Judge Collyer's decision in place, and stop the payments. (If President Trump dropped the appeal, Judge Collyer's stay pending appeal would have gone away.) He could even have cited Judge Collyer's ruling as a reason for stopping payments, perhaps diffusing some of the political blow-back from such a move.
But President Trump didn't drop the appeal. Moreover, he has continued the payments, even as he repeatedly suggests that he might stop. Bipartisan lawmakers have encouraged him to continue payments. A final decision is due from the White House this week.
Now, with this most recent order from the D.C. Circuit, allowing states to join the suit, the appeal will continue (with the states now defending the payments, even as the Trump Administration doesn't), and Judge Collyer's stay will remain in place, at least until the D.C. Circuit rules on the case. While the stay itself doesn't prevent the President from halting payments, the states' intervention might: Because the D.C. Circuit said that the states demonstrated sufficient harm if the subsidies stop (a condition of intervention), it's not entirely clear that President Trump can stop them. And even if he can, it's not clear that the D.C. Circuit might not prevent him from stopping them (in order not to harm the states).
In other words, the states' intervention might tie the President's hands by forcing him to continue payments, even though the parties to the lawsuit might otherwise agree to stop the payments and let the case go moot.
The uncertainty here comes, on the one hand, from the fact that the President can probably stop the payments whenever he wants, irrespective of the states' intervention or Judge Collyers' ruling and stay. But on the other hand if the states argue that the President has to make payments under the ACA (and not just that he can't be prevented from making payments), then the D.C. Circuit could stop the President from halting payments. This week's ruling suggests, but does not specifically say, that the D.C. Circuit is leaving this latter option open.
But it gets even weirder. The D.C. Circuit might not even rule on the merits. That's because the states will surely challenge the House's standing to bring the case in the first place. If the D.C. Circuit kicks the case on standing grounds, that'll undue Judge Collyer's decision against the payments.
For now, the ball's in the President's court.
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
The D.C. Circuit ruled today that a group of CareFirst customers, proceeding as a class, had standing to sue the health insurer for its carelessness in protecting customers' personal information after cyber-attackers allegedly stole that information. The ruling is a victory for the plaintiffs, but it doesn't mean that the case will proceed to the merits: the lower court still has to determine whether it has diversity jurisdiction.
The problem was that the plaintiffs alleged imminent harms from the breach, and not actual harms. (As it turns out, some plaintiffs did allege actual harms, but the court didn't rule on those claims, because its ruling on imminent harms was sufficient to support standing.) The court applied the substantial-risk-of-harm test and ruled that the plaintiffs alleged a sufficiently imminent harm. Contrasting Clapper v. Amnesty International, the court said,
Here, by contrast, an unauthorized party has already accessed personally identifying data on CareFirst's servers, and it is much less speculative--at the very least, it is plausible--to infer that this party has both the intent and the ability to use that data for ill. As the Seventh Circuit asked, in another data breach case where the court found standing, "Why else would hackers break into a . . . database and steal consumers' private information? Presumably, the purpose of the hack is, sooner or later, to make fraudulent charges or assume those consumers' identities." . . . No long sequence of uncertain contingencies involving multiple independent actors has to occur before the plaintiffs in this case will suffer any harm; a substantial risk of harm exists already, simply by virtue of the hack and the nature of the data that the plaintiffs allege was taken. That risk is much more substantial than the risk presented to the Clapper Court, and satisfies the requirement of an injury in fact.
As to traceability, the court said that this doesn't require the plaintiffs to sue only "the most immediate cause, or even a proximate cause, of the plaintiffs' injuries [in this case, the robbers]; it requires only that those injuries be 'fairly traceable' to the defendant.'" The plaintiffs satisfied this test.
As to redressability, the court said that the plaintiffs have incurred costs to mitigate any damage, and that these "self-imposed risk-mitigation costs" "can satisfy the redressability requirement, when combined with a risk of future harm that is substantial enough to qualify as an injury in fact." (But the court noted that these kinds of costs are insufficient to satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement.)
Sunday, July 30, 2017
The Sixth Circuit ruled on Friday that most of two suits against the State of Michigan, state officers, Flint, and Flint officials for creating the ongoing water crisis can move forward. The ruling is a significant victory for the plaintiffs and all residents of Flint. It reverses a lower court and means that much of the original case can move to discovery.
The two consolidated cases arose when residents of Flint sued the state, the city, and state and city officials for a variety of constitutional claims for creating the water crisis that continues to plaque the city. The district court dismissed the cases on several grounds, but the Sixth Circuit on Friday reversed much of that ruling.
The court ruled first that the federal Safe Drinking Water Act did not displace the plaintiffs' constitutional claims under Section 1983. In particular, the court said that the language and legislative history of the SDWA did not point to displacement, that the SDWA's remedial scheme is not so comprehensive as to demonstrate congressional intent to preclude, and that the "contours of the rights and protections" under 1983 are different than those under the SDWA. The court went on to rule that the SDWA similarly did not displace the plaintiffs' conspiracy claim under Section 1985.
The court also ruled that the Eleventh Amendment barred claims against the State of Michigan and, in one of the two cases, against state agencies and Governor Snyder. (It noted that Eleventh Amendment immunity doesn't cover municipalities--Flint and Flint officials.) The court said that the plaintiffs in the other case sought injunctive relief against the agencies and Snyder, and could therefore move forward under Ex Parte Young. The court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the defendants waived their Eleventh Amendment immunity based on their positions in this litigation.
Finally, the court rejected the defendants' other arguments, including absolute and qualified immunity defenses for agency officials.
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) yesterday denied a motion by the Electronic Privacy Information Center for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction to stop the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity from collecting voter roll data from the states.
The ruling also says that EPIC lacks organizational standing to sue on behalf of members of its advisory board, and that, while it has standing to seek redress for informational injuries under the E-Government Act, the Act isn't enforceable against the Commission (because it's not an "agency").
But the court went to lengths to say that the Commission limited its request to the states for only publicly available information, that the request is only a request (not a mandate) of the states, and that publicized voter information will be de-identified. If these things change, the court's analysis could well change, too. As a result, while the ruling allows the Commission's requests for voter roll information to go forward, the ruling also reminds us that states may decline to provide the information, and that the Commission will only get already-publicily-available information, and will have to store and use it with certain limitations.
The court said that EPIC lacked organizational standing to sue on behalf of members of its advisory board, because, even if EPIC is considered a membership organization for organizational standing purposes (which the court suggested it's not), "the only practical harms that Plaintiff's advisory board members would suffer, assuming their respective states decide to comply with the Commission's request in the future, is that their already publicly available information would be rendered more easily accessible by virtue of its consolidation on the [Commission's] computer systems . . . ." According to the court, that's not enough for standing.
But the court went on to say that EPIC had informational standing under the E-Government Act. The Act requires government agencies to conduct a privacy impact statement and publicize it. The court said that EPIC (1) had been deprived of this information and (2) therefore suffered the kind of harm that Congress sought to prevent by requiring it. The court also said that EPIC had standing under circuit precedent recognizing standing for an organization that "suffered a concrete and demonstrable injury to its activities . . . ." The court held that EPIC "has a long-standing mission to educate the public regarding privacy rights, and engage in this process by obtaining information from the government," and thus suffered such an injury.
But the court held that the Administrative Procedures Act (the basis of EPIC's suit, because the E-Government Act doesn't create a separate cause of action) doesn't apply to the Commission, because the Commission isn't an "agency" under the APA.
So even though EPIC has standing, it's not likely to succeed on the merits, and the court rejected its motion for a TRO and Preliminary Injunction.